Antigua Guatemala, love foods of Guatemala


Yolkobsens, firmly planted in Antigua Guatemala, love foods of Guatemala.  Of particular delight and cause for celebration is the kind of avocado found here.

Unlike the Hass variety from California or Mexico, which is the kind gringos are used to buying in Chicago or Toronto, the Guatemala representation is less meaty, of a paler hue and much milder taste.

The key to making tasty avacado dips for snacking or pairing with cocktails before traditional Guatemalan food is simple:  think of this fruit as a medium, rather than the main incredient.

With Guatemalan avocadoes it’s helpful to apply the tofu principle of cooking:  it tastes like whatever you put on it, without lending much taste to the medley of incredients you add.

You’ll still have the beautiful green color in a bowl, puncutated with bits of red onion, red pepper, bacon bits (your own homemade not the mystery eraser material bumps that come from the package) or whatever your imagination and palette preference dictate.

Another tip:  the smaller the avacado the better the taste and consistency.  Avoid the big flasy honkers you find in the marketplace since they are more water than anything else.

The following is a recipe for perfect dips to make part of your repertoire of food in Guatemala.

AvoGuate Dip (serves four)

Ingredients:  six small ripe avocados; half a teaspoon of ready-made hot sauce,  (not too hot, but piquant enough to stimulate the taste buds); one glove of garlic, minced; one small red onion, chopped fine; and a squirt of anchovie paste.

Cream the avocado then combine the rest of the ingrediets in a bowl, garnish with tomato bits and serve.

This is only one recipe, but you get the idea from the above.  A lot of Guatemalan food cooks add mayonaise, but we don’t favor that approach.  You can add pretty well anything that you like for color and flavor. “!Buen provincho!”

Monterrico Guatemala Cayman Suites

There’s a well-kept secret near Antigua Guatemala: the nearby pristine and beautiful beaches in the Monterrico Guatemala area.  Getting there is easy by car or shuttle van and you can drive there in under two hours.  However,  it might take you 5 to 6 hours by chicken bus.  That’s okay if you’ve got the time.

Before reading further, you should be aware of an important warning: Nearby beaches all have an undertow and extreme caution is advised.  Very few people venture into the water.  In part, it’s because relatively few Guatemalans know how to swim.  The other reason is, at  waist deep, the irritable force of the Pacific in this part of the world can take even a middling-strong swimmer away very suddenly.  Please be careful if you go to the beaches here.  Go for the warmth and beauty, but stay ankle deep. There are no lifeguards and no promises.  Most private beach resorts have ample swimming pools for placid floaters and vigorous lap swimmers alike.

A note about the Guatemala weather in the beach zone:  From October to the end of April you can pretty well count on hot, sunny days in the high 80s to low 90s F, not including the humid ex.

Though the public beaches in the Monterrico Guatemala area are sadly littered with party leavings, a.k.a. garbage, the beaches at the private resorts are quiet, clean and simply extraordinary. The black lava sand and high, hot sunny vista are not spoiled by the intrusion of high-rise hotel and condo complexes.  There’s nothing taller than a palm tree as you look down the arc of the shore. The beach resort hotels tend to favor a bungalow-style accommodation and the highest level in any hotel we visited is the third floor.

Yolkobsens were mystified that gringo tourists were not flocking to “las playas bonitas” found along the Guatemalan Pacific coast.  We went on a week day and during our tours of several hotel beach resorts we found stunning shore fronts and beaches with hardly anyone on them.  If quiet rest while listening to rolling waves is what you are after, the trick is to avoid the weekends when much enthusiastic partying, Guatemala style, dominates the senses.

Of all the beach resorts visited, our favorite was Cayman Suites Monterrico Guatemala. Like all the private beaches in the area, this one is in the fond embrace of an uncluttered Pacific shoreline.  The sea shore can be seen from pretty well all the rooms. Soft creamy yellow hues dominate the hotel’s color scheme.  Rooms and bungalows were finely appointed, attractive and clean.  It had the best swimming pool set up of all the hotels we visited.  One pool is good for doing vigorous laps, the other is great for floating and had the classic submerged pool stools addressing the bar.  The gardens were lush and well-tended. The quiet elegance and modest price makes this resort our number one pick for the Monterrico Guatemala beach zone.  Please don’t forget your sun block and hat.

Cayman Suites Monterrico Guatemala website

Santa Maria Cafe – Antigua Guatemala

Just back from lunch at the punchy little restaurant called Santa Maria Cafe, on the southwest side of Antigua Guatemala, and Yolkobsens thought you would want to hear about this interpretation of Guatemalan food right away.

It’s an odd, micro place with six tables for two.  When we got there it was going on 1 p.m. and the place was full.  There was the best mix of clientele: half gringo, half Guatemalan.  So the owners must be doing something right.

As per the Santa Maria name, the eatery has a distinctly female tone, both in food treatment, service and decor.  There’s a shrine to St. Mary and child above the door that leads to the kitchen.  Garlanded with dried flowers, the small shrine niche has been worked into the centuries-old brick of what was once a large colonial home.  Murals, depicting Maya women, one carrying a child and tending corn, the other masterfully toting a loaded basket on her handsome head, adorn two restaurant walls.

The only caveat is for you tall, leggy types.  There’s not much leg room under the slightly off-proportion tables.  In fact, the table-chair ratio is probably more suited to the stature of the average North American 10-year-old.  But don’t let this put you off going to the Santa Maria Cafe; it just adds to the quirky charm.

The saintly restaurant specializes in preparing simple fare, serviced fast.  Grilled meat is the a typical platter’s diva player, surrounded by a chorus of vegetables.

On offer that day was a range of menu items, featuring steak, pork, or chicken.  We chose the grilled chicken fillet which came with a serving of gently sauteed vegetables nicely al dente, parboiled and then grilled potatoes, and tortillas.  The food was simply prepared, but quite good.  The service was fast and efficient.  The price, which included one beer and one bottle of water, was more than reasonable, ringing in per person the equivalent cost of two trips on Toronto’s public transit system.

The Santa Maria Cafe is conveniently located, not far from the Parque Central.  It’s about a five minute walk from Antigua Guatemala’s central core.  If you’re in a hurry this is the place to go.

From touch-down on the wooden chairs to “la cuenta por favor,” took all of 20 minutes. You can have your lunch, gather strength and restorative energy, and then quickly be back on the crumbling and uneven sidewalks that make strolling in this grand old town both a challenge and a pleasure.

Santa Maria Cafe is located at 7a Calle Poniente #14 1/2.

Panderia Santa Clara – 2a Avenida Sur #24

Panderia Santa Clara Antigua Guatemala

Two things let you know you are nearing Panderia Santa Clara:  the flowered flag above the door and the line-up that often trails into the street.

The shop itself must be 7 ft. by 12 ft., and it’s jumbled and jammed with savory breads and elaborate pastries.  An icon of Santa Clara herself presides over the shop. This must be auspicious because the fare turned out by this little bakery, located just south of the Iglesia Santa Clara ruins, is among Antigua Guatemala‘s best.

You can make an outstanding light lunch with their savory buns as the main attraction. Items on offer in this category include:  pastry-robed mini hot dog franks (really “pigs in a blanket” where I come from); spinach salad seasoned with a light mayonnaise; and my favorite, ground beef spiced mildly with peppers and dotted with bits of corn.  We made a good late lunch, paired with an Argentine shiraz, out of our samplings from this kind establishment.

Antigua Guatemala Coo-chee Coo-chee Bakery

Bakery hopping in Antigua Guatemala is a tough job, but somebody has to do it. Nobly sacrificing our waist lines and striking an accord with Mr. Tooth Decay, Yolkobsens bravely sampled interpretations of the fine Guatemalan food found in a number of local bake shops.

Panderia San Antonio – 4a Calle Oriente #29B

Who can resist a bakery that Antigua Guatemala lovingly call, “coo-chee coo-chee?”  I ran amok trying to find this spot, but when I asked, “?Donde esta el coo-chee coo-chee?” I was relieved when they pointed me toward the famous Panderia San Antonio and not to a bar highly favored by the naval fleet.

This venerable Antigua Guatemala landmark has a long history and many declare it the best bread bakery here.  Located just before the Concepcion barrio, this tiny boutique only has about a dozen kinds of sweet and savory breads.

I bought a loaf of the “pan frances,” or French bread and an almond-kissed, mildly sweet, muffin-shaped golden mini loaf.  The bread was flavorful and had a lot of character.  And, unlike most Guatemalan breads, it was still moist and tasty the next day.

The muffin-shaped number?  I scarfed it down on the way home.  Enough said.